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The Ancients

Chapter Twelve

By NCS NapierPublished 3 months ago 20 min read


Yanik’s knee buckled as she stepped over a hole, barely managing to keep her feet as she stumbled forward. She rubbed her swollen eyes that longed for the comfort of rest, their fatigue so great that shadows had begun to take form, rushing at her only to vanish into nothing more than a nearby fern or rustling sapling.

She jolted with fright as Volk grunted, momentarily forgetting the bear was her friend, then followed the hulking brown figure as it changed direction leading them southwest. She had no idea where Volk was leading them but hardly cared as she focused all her energy on continuing her trudge. Flint’s body swayed back and forth on Volk, the rope holding him to her as she lumbered through the trees. Those fucking trees. Endlessly whizzing by in slow motion, time around her consistently distorted by the resemblances of faces she found in each new trunk.

Tuule-Emä’s breath shook the nearby aspens that laughed at her pitiful attempts to evade their always watchful eyes. The swirling darkness of the knots where their broken branches once sat taunted her wrecked mind as their trunks towered high into the air. Their roots held so strong and tireless that even the largest creatures were forced to submit to the never tiring trees, let alone her feeble body. “Trees do not judge,” Yanik muttered under her breath, trying hard to disrupt the gloomy thoughts that sapped her of what little energy she had left. “Trees are Taara’s gift to the world.”

Her course tongue gripped her chapped lips, unable to provide enough moisture to stop them from sticking together with every exhale. Exhaustion stopped her from lifting her hand to push aside the frond that brushed her face, catching in her tangled hair and forcing her to yank her head forward out of its clasp. Tall fern. Her mind repeated over and over. She supposed that was marginally less concerning than the thought of the trees watching her. Tall fern. Her mind repeated as her tongue darted in and out of her mouth. Water. She strained to continue that thought. She would need water soon, as did the ferns that brushed her arms and face as she trudged on. Ferns. Water! Yanik opened her senses and reconnected with the world surrounding her, allowing the glorious sound of rushing water to flood her ears.

“Good girl,” She praised Volk, her body filling with renewed vigour as she realised how close the gently flowing stream was. She stumbled to the bank and dropped the satchels, too heavy for her wearied arms to gently place down.

She fell to her knees and shuffled forward, plunging her whole head underwater and gulping at the miraculous stream. The gorgeous stream. The most beautiful stream she had ever seen in her life. She rose for air and panted vigorously as the water sat sloshing in her stomach, incapable of being absorbed as quickly as she craved. She giggled when she saw Volk’s head submerged in the water, reflecting the exact position she had been in only moments before. Her glee faded swiftly when she noticed Volk’s chaffed flanks rubbed raw by the rope that held Flint to her back.

“Oh Volk!” She gasped, rushing to her side and untying the rope. “Why didn’t you say something?” Yanik looped her arms under Flint’s pits and gently tried to lower him. As soon as the weight tipped from Volk, Yanik’s arms gave way and Flint tumbled to the ground with a thud. She groaned as she heaved his body over and lay his head on a pile of leaves. Volk tenderly nudged her shoulder with thanks as she licked her mouth clean of the droplets that ran down her beard before returning to the water.

Yanik crawled to her bag and rummaged for a small wooden bowl that she filled with water and placed next to Flint’s unconscious body. She lifted his head and inspected it for the wound that had lightly matted his hair with darkened blood, then poured the water across the affected area, relieved as the blood washed out and revealed nothing more than a nasty graze. She moved to his bare shoulder, visible through his torn tunic, where a nasty hole from the tobras tusk would require attention.

She retrieved her brown leather medic pouch, glad to see that she had restocked it after the last time she had used it, and removed a large bandage that could be used to stem the bleeding, along with a small vial of alcohol that would help to clean the wound and stop the rot. She pulled his tunic over his head and splashed the injury with water to remove the worst of the crusted blood and grime before pouring the alcohol to finish the job. Her medical pouch had no other dressings that would be beneficial but wondered if the hollow horn hanging from Flint’s satchel might have something of use. She reached for it and pulled out the stopper, much to her surprise, finding a vast array of roots, flowers, and herbs, along with a dollop of honey hiding between two pieces of honeycomb, wrapped in a makeshift leaf casing. “Thank you, Taara,” Yanik uttered as she smeared the honey across the wound before tightly winding the bandage around his shoulder. “Or maybe I should be thanking you.”

She packed away the medical equipment and retrieved Flint’s warm coat from his satchel, eager to make his recovery as comfortable as possible. She needed to wash his clothes clean of the easily trackable blood that had dribbled down his face and onto his pants and tunic. She shuffled to his waist and began to loosen his pants when Volk growled alarmingly and sprang forward to stand over Yanik. “What?” She said half-jokingly to Volk, who turned her head sideways and flapped her ears. Thinking nothing of it, Yanik returned to loosening Flint’s pants when Volk aggressively raised her paw and pushed Yanik from Flint’s body. “Down. Down!” Yanik yelled as Volk took a protective step over Flint and nuzzled her out of the way. “They must be cleaned!” Yanik pleaded, but Volk stood shielding Flint’s body with her upper lip curled down, baring her teeth and making her face appear long. “Fine!” Yanik shouted, snatching her bow and quiver from the ground before storming into the forest.

She turned just before she was out of view to see Volk laying her head on Flint’s chest and moaning forlornly. If she doesn’t want my help, that’s her fault. A new wave of anger rose as Yanik watched Volk sniff Flint’s wound. “I Tried,” She said before stomping away from their camp. This time she didn’t have Volk to annoy her or Flint to weigh her down. Good. Yet a restlessness burned deep in her stomach, a churning fury that refused to subside.

She ducked beneath a log wedged between two trees but rose too early and smacked her head on a low-hanging branch. She shouted as she tugged at the branch, ripping it free and then striking at the trunk with all her might. She imagined an array of faces before her as she lashed at the tree. “Ahh!” She screamed aloud, unable to control her body as it continued to violently strike the tree that slowly whittled her branch away to nothing. Completely and utterly exhausted, she collapsed to the ground weeping. Tears streaked down her face as she inspected the scarred tree, sap slowly oozing from its torn-apart bark.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry… I’m sorry.” She sobbed, wiping the snot that dripped from her nose on the back of her hand. “I’m sorry, Taara, I shouldn’t have…” She traced her fingers down the course, broken bark. “Where are you? I need you. I’m trying my best, but this…” She snorted with a mixture of contempt and amusement, struggling to process her swelling emotions. “Please allow my sisters to feast with you so I may one day see them again. I miss them so much. And my home -” She faltered as a lump caught in her throat, “My mother.” Her shoulders jerked up and down as her chest heaved with each sob. “What have I done to anger you so? To have you do this to me. To send him… I don’t know what to do. I know that Mother… She asked for… I need to stay with him, I know, get him to come with me, but -” She took a deep breath and sucked through her teeth. “I cannot feel the warmth of Päike or the strength of Maaemä. Even Tuule-Emä does not talk to me. I ask that you please hold me in your thoughts tonight and send me your love when I need it most. I need it now. I need it. Päike, Maaemä, Tuule-Emä, Veteemä, Taara.” Yanik said as she performed the blessing of the Mothers, moving her hand from her heart to her liver, then to her right lung and down to her stomach, creating a large X as she said each Mother's name before touching her forehead as she said Taara.

She stayed cross-legged on the ground as tears flowed freely from her eyes. Leaf hoppers gradually appeared to feast on the trees dripping sap, mesmerisingly scuttling their way up the trunk before extending their suckers and enjoying a meal. She leaned in to watch their tiny world, using them as an excuse to distract her mind from the thoughts that left her bitter and sad.

Her stomach growled as the leaf hoppers sucked at the sweet sap. She hadn’t eaten in over a day and knew that if she didn’t eat soon, her energy levels would never recover enough for a proper hunt. She forced herself to stand and slung her quiver across her back. She drew an arrow and began stalking through the forest, searching for signs of tracks, burrows, or nests that would provide an easy meal. Her head spun with fatigue, her eyes blurred and watered as her body focused on placing one foot in front of the other.

A collard dove flew directly past her line of sight and perched in a nearby tree, cooing as it settled down on a little bundle of sticks, primed for the taking. She readied her bow and knocked an arrow, taking a deep breath to try and settle her wavering hands. She let loose and watched as the arrow pierced the dove’s neck and fell to the ground. “Yes!” She cried as a huge weight lifted from her shoulders.

She cautiously scaled the tree, delighted to find the dove had been perched on two small eggs. She placed her palm on the tree trunk and sighed with relief. “Thank you, Taara.” She cracked one of the eggs and allowed the gooey inside to slide down her throat and into her empty stomach. Now that she had broken her fast her stomach grumbled, begging for more food. It would have to wait. The light was starting to fade, and it was time she returned to ensure Flint was okay. She carefully placed the other egg in her pocket, scaled down the tree, and retrieved the bird.

She started back towards camp, becoming agitated as she wondered whether she had made a wrong turn. Questions invaded her head, popping up and then disappearing quicker than she could rationally dispel them. What if Yarganov had caught up and taken Flint? Or even worse… What if Flint had regained consciousness and left? Alone. Always alone. I can’t lose. Mother needs him. I should never have left him there!

She picked up the pace as the restless sound of the stream returned to within earshot. She rounded the final tree obscuring her view from total abandonment, to find Volk lying loyally by Flint’s side, protecting him from harm’s way. Volk sprung to her feet and bounded towards Yanik, delighted by her return. “Is he okay?” She asked, nodding to Flint as if expecting an answer. Volk nuzzled the bird Yanik held in her hand, excited by the prospect of a meal. “I should’ve known.” Yanik grinned. “This is for when he wakes.” She said, adamant not to allow her gnawing belly to override her logic.

She knelt by Flint and unloaded her quiver and bow along with the egg and the dove. Volk growled, causing her to stand back and throw her hands in the air. “I didn’t touch him,” Yanik assured her, showing her hands as she stepped away from his body. Volk whined as she opened and closed her mouth, then ambled over and leaned against Yanik. “You want to play?” She asked as Volk gleefully moaned and pressed more of her weight into her. “You’re on.”

Yanik placed her arms around Volk in a sort of… cuddle, then tried to push her off balance, utterly ignorant of how bears played. Volk easily held her weight and drove Yanik backwards, her powerful haunches digging into the ground and supplying her with power Yanik would never be able to match. Nevertheless, she lowered her body and pushed with all her might, surprised as Volk began to stumble. Yank laughed as Volk rolled onto her side and flailed her legs like a helpless beetle, allowing Yanik to jump on top and pretend to hold her down. Volk raised her muzzle and licked Yanik’s scrunched-up face with her tongue that reached from forehead to chin and left a trail of saliva for good measure.

“Don’t get used to that treatment.”

Flint propped himself up and watched as Yanik sprang from Volk and shuffled a few paces away. “Are you talking to Volk or me?” She asked, her eye line remaining firmly on the ground. Flint wondered whether it might be embarrassment, or shame, or something to do with her puffy red eyes. He didn’t know.

“You,” He coughed, reaching for the wooden bowl and sipping at the water. It felt like he hadn’t drunk in days. His head pounded, his mouth was dry, his voice hoarse. He would need to monitor his water intake. “When she wants to win, she will.”

“Maybe I’m stronger than you think.” Yanik grinned to herself. She squatted beside Volk, who lounged back as Yanik rubbed her belly and talked in a strange high-pitched voice. “Who’s a good girl?”

“Where are we?” Flint mumbled as he sat up to survey his surroundings. It was subtle, but they were undoubtedly in a different part of the forest. The stream was less ferocious than the one by the den; the ferns were taller, the canopy less invasive. “What happened?”

“No idea where we are,” Yanik said as she pointed to the sky. “Southwest somewhere. You got hit by that thing.” She slapped Volk on the belly, then moved towards her gear.

“The tobras.”

“It shouldn’t have attacked us – Do that.” She said as she picked up the dove and threw it to Flint. She rummaged through her bag and produced a tinder pouch. “We aren’t prey. We aren’t in their chain. So why did they -”

“Things aren’t normal,” Flint muttered as he began to rip the feathers from the bird. “Food is scarce. Animals are desperate. The forest is receding - Skin?” He asked, holding up the bird.

“Whatever’s easy,” Yanik replied, placing a dry piece of mossy bark on a sharp piece of quarts and striking it with her steel. “You were thrown into a tree. Hit your head bad, but Volk and I killed it easily.”

“Huh…” Flint scratched at his throbbing head; he’d had much worse.

“Which reminds me -” Yanik stooped to blow on the single ember attached to the bark. “You owe me one.”

“You owed me two so -”

“Uh, I carried your things all day to get some distance between -” Yanik continued blowing on the bark that now had a small flame. “I’m counting that as two.”

Flint grunted as he flipped the bird and cut from its breastbone to its anal opening, careful not to nick the intestines. The sun was falling, which meant she must have been walking all day. Her quiver only had a couple of arrows left. Both her and Volk had scratches and scrapes where they didn’t before. The tracks approaching the stream revealed short steps before a stumble at the edge. The fight was not as easy as she wanted him to believe.

He removed the viscera inside the dove with skilful shaves, pulling it downward before removing the windpipe and the crop. He gingerly leaned to the stream and washed its cavity as Yanik added some bundled-up twigs to the bark. His head pounded. Water, food, and rest. That’s what he needed. Flint placed the bird next to Yanik and leaned back to his satchel, massaging his temple and groaning with frustration as he rummaged inside.

“Are you okay?” She asked, placing more twigs on the ever-growing fire. “Take it easy. It was a nasty knock.”

“I’m fine,” Flint murmured as he finally found his simple wooden pipe with a bear claw carved around the chamber. He removed the stopper from his medicine horn and packed the pipe with herb. He grabbed one of the flaming twigs and held it to the pipe, allowing the pungent herb to relax his body and take away his headache.

“What is that?” Yanik asked, snatching back the twig and replacing it on the fire.

“It helps. With the pain.” Flint replied. Yanik pulled some sort of face that he didn’t understand. He inhaled again, holding the smoke in his lungs, then rubbed his chest as he released it slowly over the count of five beats. He was bare-chested. “Where’s my tunic?”

Yanik pointed to Flint’s tunic balled up on the ground. “Covered in blood. I tried to wash it. And your pants.”

“My pants?” Flint said, sitting up and clutching at his thigh.

“Yes, your pants,” Yanik said as she hung the bird over the fire. She grinned. “Don’t know what it is you’re trying to hide down there.” She chuckled to herself. Flint did not. “Would you relax? This one wouldn’t let me.” She nodded to Volk.

“Don’t do that,” Flint mumbled as he threw his pipe beside his satchel.

“Do what?” Yanik asked, turning to face Flint.


“You helped me,” Yanik said, her voice growing sharper. “I wasn’t going to leave you there.”

“It’s your right to do so,” Flint grunted as he lay back down.

Yanik scoffed, her head rocking from side to side. “My right? My right.” She repeated as her hand shot out and unceremoniously turned the bird. “What are you going on about? I just wanted to repay the favour.”

“Don’t touch my things,” Flint said as he grabbed his tunic from the floor and painfully worked his arm through the tattered sleeve.

“What’s your problem?” Yanik asked as she jumped to her feet. Her hands rested on her hips. “Did I offend you?”


“Then why are you being so rude?” She asked, moving her head to enter his vision.

“I didn’t know what else to say.” Flint shrugged.

Yanik shook her head as she prodded at the dove on the fire. “It’s not hard to be polite.”

“I didn’t know that…” Flint scratched his head confused. “A couple of days ago, you were holding me captive.”

“Yeah, but… I…” Yanik paused for a long beat, her eyes darting from Flint to the bird. All at once, her face fell, and she buried it between her hands. Her shoulders heaved up and down as whimpers escaped from her mouth. “I don’t know what to do,” She said, angling her body away from Flint to hide the water that fell from her eyes. “I don’t know where I am. I miss my mother, and I thought that…” Something caught in her throat that stopped her from talking. She wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I thought that…” She raised her head and turned to Flint. She was smiling now. A nice smile… he guessed. Her eyes were bright and inviting. “You and I were… I don’t know. Friends?”


Flint stared at Yanik. He could feel his mouth was open but didn’t have the control to close it. His mind swam in dizzying circles. A friend? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t know what that meant. Did he have to do something now? Her gaze was focused solely on him. With that sweet smile. The silence dragged on for half a part until Flint stood from his spot and sat beside Yanik. “I… Um…” He had no idea what to say. He lowered his head and nudged her shoulder with his forehead.

“What are you doing?” She giggled, her cheeks flushing red as she shied away. “Is that what Volk does to make you feel better?”

Flint pulled his head back and stared blankly into the forest. What was he thinking? He was so stupid. He had no idea what to do or say. He tugged at the hair below his chin and swayed back and forward as his mind berated him. Stop it! “Are you going home?” He mumbled.

“I have to.” She bit her lip. “Not that I know where we are.”

Flint shuffled over to his gauntlets and opened the small pocket hidden on the side. “You’ll be wanting this then.” He said as he pulled out her pouch with that symbol.

Yanik’s mouth tumbled open. “You… But I thought! You’re amazing.” She clutched her mouth and shook her head. “Now they’ll never stop hunting me,” Yanik said as she reached out and placed her hand alongside Flint’s on the pouch. “Or us. This Elixir is -”

“Don’t tell me,” Flint said, releasing the pouch and allowing Yanik to take it. “I don’t want to know.”

“Please,” Yanik said, stretching out and touching Flint’s shoulder. “Come with me.”

“I’m going home.”

“Home?” She snorted. “Why are you so desperate to return to your hole in the ground?”

“It’s a nice hole.”

Yanik laughed, even louder when Flint smiled, his eyes scrunching up as his top teeth showed. But it evaporated as quickly as it appeared, leaving only his severe expression behind. Flint flipped the bird. “It’s ready.”

“Your head -” Yanik said, inspecting his wound. “It can’t possibly have healed that fast.”

Flint covered his head with his hand and moved away from Yanik. He lay his head on Volk, who was curled up by the fire.

“Please stay with me,” Yanik said as she ripped a piece of bird from the fire and placed it in the empty wooden bowl. “I’m asking for your help.”

Flint took the bowl and nibbled at the meat, unaware of how hungry he had been. There wasn’t enough here to fill him up, not even close, but it would at least give him enough energy to find more. Yanik ripped herself a chunk of meat before placing some on a nearby rock. Flint rolled his eyes as he shoved more bird in his mouth.

“I’m not a bear.” She said as she held the meat close to her mouth. “You can say please and thank you.” Flint chewed on his overflowing mouthful, swallowing large chunks of the meat with a cough. Yanik didn’t look away; she just held the meat and waited for… something. Oh.


FantasySci FiAdventure

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NCS Napier

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